By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
As welcoming and supporting as we like to think Canada is, newcomers often find at least some degree of learning curve.
And in the latest offering in the Summer Season at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, that learning curve takes place in a small-town prairie hospital.
Prairie Nurse is based on the true story of playwright Marie Beath Badian’s mother’s arrival in Canada in 1967 with a fellow Filipino nurse.
Penny (Kryslyne-Mai Ancheta) and Puring (Yunike Soedarmasto) are the title characters created by Badian, the real-life daughter of Puring (the nurse who arrives in tears because she’s just seen a sign welcoming her to the land of rape and honey).
They are delivered from the airport to the hospital in little Arbourfield, Saskatchewan, by Charlie (David Ferry), and shepherded by eager candy-striper Patsy (Ellie Ellwand) and harried nurse Marie Anne (Deborah Drakeford – returning to the Capitol after her recent tour de force in Shirley Valentine).
As they start their work, they find that Dr. Miles (Iain Stewart) and lab tech Wilf (Aaron MacPherson) make a mighty effort to balance their work lives with such other interests as hockey, hunting and fishing – though Wilf might not be averse to a little romance as well.
“There’s a long history of relationship between Canada and the Philippines – actually North America and the Philippines – of bringing nurses and care workers over,” director Megan Watson noted.
“Our health-care system is supported by many, many workers who graduated from nursing school in the Philippines and come to Canada.”
In this particular 1967 instance, Watson added, “Marie Beath is really clear to say that, although the play is based on people who are real, and some aspects of her mother’s stories, it is very much like an imagined telling of her mother’s arrival in Canada.
“It’s a very creative and created exploration of her arrival. While a lot of the characters are real people and those are their names, a lot of details are fictional.”
Badian decided to continue the story by revisiting the characters at subsequent points in their lives. A sequel, The Waltz, has been completed. The third part of the trilogy, The Cottage Guest, is in development.
As for the original play, Watson said, “I get the sense that what Marie Beath has tapped into with the prairie nurse story is something that is very relatable to a lot of people. It’s a coming-to-Canada story that sort of connects us with how we got where we are today as Canadians with the various waves of immigration, the diasporas from different places.
“I think Marie Beath found people could really relate to her mother’s story – and this is the 10th-anniversary production of Prairie Nurse, so it has been happening in theatres across the country for the last 10 years. So many places, it really connects with people. I think that’s why she is really interested in continuing on with these characters.”
Watson described opening night, July 15, as “such a joyous night. I was hearing people’s delight in how playful so many of the characters are, that it’s a comedy and it’s so nice to be together and laugh together in a theatre. I think so many of us are still coming together for some of the first times to have those collective joyful experiences, indulging in the joy of being in a theatre with other people and being able to laugh together.”
And afterwards, she added, there was the joy of the reactions – “conversations with people whose family members are nurses and work in the health-care system. I love when people can feel represented on stage in some capacity. There are beautiful details in the play that nurses or doctors can say, ‘I recognize that.’”
Kudos must be shared with set and costume designer Jackie Chau, lighting designer Jareth Li, composer and sound designer Jeff Newberry, stage manager Charlene Saroyan and assistant stage manager Arielle Voght.
Not to mention two specialists you just don’t see at every Capitol production – fight director Siobhan Richardson and dialect coach/cultural consultant Hanna Donato.
“I just want the people of the Northumberland community to come out and see this production, which was made very specifically at the Capitol – the sets, the props, the costumes,” Watson said.
“It was a big community-and-Capitol-Theatre effort to get this show on, so I hope people find the time to come out and enjoy it before July 30.”
Tickets are available at capitoltheatre.com, in person at the Capitol box office in Port Hope, or by calling 905-885-1071.
Looking ahead, the season continues with Mickey and Judy July 27 through Aug. 6, followed by Little Shop of Horrors Aug. 11 through Sept. 3.